In his latest update to growers, the kiwifruit marketer’s chairman Bruce Cameron said investigations indicate the G3 (SunGold) hybrid fruit is now present in varying ages of maturity in several areas and includes some big growing operations.
Zespri grower and alliances officer Dave Courtney said there are Chinese plots in the tens of hectares that total more than 2000ha, with typical areas averaging 10ha.
“But if you think about how here in New Zealand the average orchard size is about 3.5ha then this is significant.”
Zespri has identified a few larger commercial groups with orchards in place on a bigger scale.
The alert comes as a civil court case continues in the High Court at Auckland for millions in damages against an individual who allegedly sent SunGold G3 plants to China.
The area covered by those plants is estimated at 160ha and they were discovered in 2016.
The G3 plants can be grown only under licence and growers this season have paid almost $300,000 a hectare for rights to grow the popular SunGold variety.
Because there are no provisions in NZ’s Plant Variety Rights Act for criminal proceedings the case is being heard as a civil one.
Courtney said Zespri is working closely with Chinese authorities to take action on the illegal use of Zespri intellectual property.
Authorities there are very receptive to stamping out counterfeit activity but Zespri will be among the first fruit companies to deal with illegally grown fruit with an intellectual property claim over it.
Illegally packaged fruit using counterfeit Zespri labelling has been an ongoing issue for the company but fruit grown in-country is a first and Courtney said the company aims to have tools to help identify the provenance of disputed fruit.
“We will be able to tell where it is grown and even in what province but plant variety rights breaches in China are a new area.”
The discovery made no impact on whether Zespri would or would not go on to grow its own protected and licensed G3 fruit in China.
Some initial exploration work has been done but Zespri has not progressed any further.